Santos has been fracking wells in Australia safely for almost 50 years.
Most of these wells have been conventional oil and gas wells.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is used to increase the flow of oil or natural gas from a well. It has been used safely around the world since 1949 in over 2.5 million wells.
Santos has used fracking to produce oil and gas in South Australia and Queensland for nearly 50 years. It has also been used in other industries to increase the flow of water wells or to clean up hazardous waste sites.
In over 60 years of operations, there has not been one proven case of water contamination as a result of fracking. Studies in the United States, United Kingdom and here in Australia have concluded that fracking can be undertaken safely.
A well is drilled into an underground layer that contains oil or gas. The well is surrounded by steel and concrete to ensure there is no link between the oil or gas layer and other underground layers, such as aquifers.
Fluid is pumped into the layer containing oil or gas at high pressure. The pressure of the fluid fractures the layer to produce tiny cracks. The fluid contains sand, which remains underground to hold open the tiny cracks. This creates pathways for oil or gas to flow more easily, increasing the productivity of the well.
The rest of the fluid is pumped back to surface and stored in specially designed dams or tanks. The fluid is then reused in hydraulic fracturing, treated or disposed at an approved facility.
Fracking enables extraction of oil and gas trapped in tight underground layers that were not previously accessible. In this way, the increased use of fracking is providing more energy to meet growing global demand and keep prices reasonable for consumers.
Because fracking increases the flow from a well, it also means fewer wells need to be drilled to deliver the same amount of oil or natural gas. This is good news for landholders and for the environment.
According to the CSIRO, groundwater contamination from fracking fluids is considered a low risk. The underground layers containing gas are geologically separated from other underground layers and all wells are surrounded by steel and concrete. This ensures no movement of fracturing fluid into aquifers.
Even in the highly unlikely event that there was some connection between fracturing fluid and an aquifer, the CSIRO concludes that the risk of contamination would be minimised because during production water would flow away from the aquifer and towards the well.
Fracking fluid is 99 per cent water and sand. A very small amount of chemicals are also used to reduce friction, remove bacteria, dissolve some minerals and improve the transportation of sand.
The chemicals are not unique to the oil and gas industry and are found in many household products such as toothpaste, baked goods, ice cream, food additives, detergents and soap.
Detailed information about the chemicals used in Santos’ operations is available here.